So they write letters...

With barely a month before the September presidential polls, leaders of the two opposition political alliances in the Gambia exchange letters on the way forward, vis-a-vis a grand alliance to take on the APRC. After reading through the missives, I am pessimistic that the parties will ever reach common ground within the limited time frame they have. The letters are devoid of pragmatism. The parties to the talks are taking a defensive stance and trying to protect their turf. I hate to say this, but in my humble opinion the game is up and reconciliation between the UDP/NRP alliance and NADD ain't gonna happen. The winner of this untenable and obtuse behavior is Yahya Jammeh and his APRC.

I am not going to reproduce at length the letters they wrote to each other. However see below the proposals contained in a letter the UDP/NRP sent to NADD to start off the correspondence:

We in the UDP/NRP Alliance have since had a meeting of our joint National Executive Committee. The joint Executive Committee has mandated Mr. Darboe to pursue the discussions with NADD as quickly as possible. We have since been waiting to hear from Hon. Halifa Sallah so that discussions could resume. The membership of UDP/NRP Alliance and NADD are well conscious of the fact that the elections are just around the corner and there is not much time at our disposal. In view of the time constraint the UDP/NRP Alliance formally invites you to consider the following proposals for a united front of opposition parties and these are:

1) The UDP/NRP Alliance be expanded to include NADD

2) ‘That the new Alliance adopts a single flag bearer to contest the 2006 presidential elections.

3) That the whole activities of the elections be governed by the dictates of the present Constitutions.

4) That the issue of allocating portfolios and responsibilities be shelved and that the Alliance concentrates on the principles of regime change which will ultimately lead to a system change.

5) That after the elections and provided that the expanded Alliance wins the elections arrangements be made for organizing a National Constitutional Review Conference within a period of three months after the National Assembly Elections.

6) The recommendations of the Conference will be the subject of a referendum and thereafter be submitted to the National Assembly for adoption and ratification. It is our belief that only the Gambian people can determine how the affairs of this country should be administered and all other actors are to abide by the dictates and the will of the people.

In response, this is what NADD has to say:

Your first proposal is for the UDP/NRP Alliance to be expanded to include NADD. The position of the NADD Executive is unequivocal. The executive members are convinced that after the second round of voting was eliminated no opposition party or its leader could be promoted to win an election on the basis of its individual strength. NADD wants the UDP/NRP Alliance to take note of the current state of their parties. It wishes to go on record to affirm that NDAM, NRP, PDOIS, PPP and UDP are still registered parties in the country; that the registration of NADD was not designed to kill other political parties and it has not killed other political parties.

That is why the UDP/NRP Executive members who were in NADD could go back to their original parties as fast as they could write their signatures. The Executive Committee wishes to reiterate that all the other Executive Committee members of NADD decided to create this umbrella party and register it so as to galvanize the collective strength of the opposition parties to remove the present regime and then give life to each party to contest the next following election on equal footing on the basis of its own merit and that of its candidate. The creation of NADD cultivated a sense of common ownership that no alliance around a single party can create. The Executive Committee further observes that a UDP/NRP/NADD Alliance will not be recognized in law.

Any candidate would have to be under UDP NRP or NADD ticket. Hence your proposal is considered to take NADD back to square one when the opposition parties were considering whether to contest the election under an umbrella party or under the leadership of one of the existing parties. It is therefore maintained that the NADD arrangement provides the best opportunity for collective ownership of the candidate and the campaign process to guarantee victory. This is the first point.

Secondly, you propose that the new alliance adopts a single flagbearer to contest the 2006 presidential election. The Executive Committee of NADD considers the proposal to be incomplete. It would like to know how the selection is to be conducted. NADD had established a selection process based on consensus or voting by party chairmen, chairwomen and youth leaders. If no mechanism is proposed there is no way the NADD Executive can make a decision on this matter.

Thirdly, you propose that the activities of the election be governed by the present constitution. The Executive Committee does not understand what this means. The constitution has been amended so many times that it gives the president monarchical powers. A President now rules without term limit. The President can appoint and dismiss the Chiefs; dismiss the members of the IEC and can even dissolve the National Assembly. Are you implying that the flagbearer should not give commitment on a political platform not to seek a second mandate or support another candidate in the next following election? Should we not have a transitional arrangement to curtail the monarchical powers of the presidency which should be propagated on our political platforms? Should the flag bearer not be urged to give commitment in public to combat and uproot such powers that legitimize impunity? This is the corner stone of NADD’s attempt to put an end to self perpetuating rule. The NADD Executive strongly maintains that this platform of putting an end to self perpetuating rule and impunity is the best weapon the opposition has in winning popular support. This is one platform it has been propagating to the wide approval of the electorate. How to reverse this process without being accused of being power hungry is a dilemma we need to give careful consideration to.

Your fourth proposal is for the alliance to limit itself to regime change and that the issue of portfolios be shelved. The NADD Executive wishes to convey that the issue of creating a cabinet based on shared responsibility by member parties should not be mistaken to be an attempt to share the cake of power. NADD aims to keep the opposition parties alive and facilitate a healthy multiparty system after a five year transition by implementing the policy of collective leadership. Nothing is explained why such a general undertaking to operate a government based on the participation of all member parties and representatives of civil society should be shelved.

The NADD Executive maintains that the first five years after Jammeh, should be a transition period to genuine democratic and constitutional rule. All the basic rectification programmes that should be made should be known to the people, so that no leader will be able to betray their aspirations without being challenged and removed in the first five years. It stands to reason that if a future president, elected on the basis of merit is expected to accept a two term limit why should the first president of a post Jammeh government not accept one term to build the culture of establishing term limits for the presidency?

The fifth point is for a National Constitutional Review Conference to be the held within a period of three months after the National Assembly elections. In our view, the review of a constitution should be done through civic education programmes designed to enable the people to know what is in the constitution followed by a nationwide debate on the need for amendments through the auspices of a constitutional review commission. This is part of the NADD programme of action.

Your sixth point is that the recommendations of a national constitutional conference will be subjected to a referendum and then presented to the National Assembly. The Executive Committee of NADD considers such a proposal to be of a general nature. No issue has been raised. It is not clear whether the recommendations will be transformed into a bill that would require the approval of the National Assembly before a referendum. We don’t know what recommendations will touch on the entrenched clauses to warrant a referendum. Hence there is no point to make a decision on. To conclude, allow us to indicate that the best way forward for any party which thinks that it has the might to remove the APRC regime is to proceed to do so and ask other parties to support its programme. However if all opposition parties are convinced that an alliance is the best instrument to remove the present regime then the NADD arrangement appears to have earned popular appeal. The flagbearer of NADD has stated in no uncertain term that he will be ready to vacate the seat in favour of anyone who can be a unifying factor of all those who are dissatisfied with the existing regime. The NADD Executive therefore calls on the UDP/NRP Alliance to do a critique of the NADD MOU and make recommendations on what to delete to make it acceptable to them. The NADD Executive will review any recommendation with objectivity. While anticipating a swift and practical response, we remain yours in the service of the Nation.... read the rest of the letters here...

Basically they agreed to disagree. No new grounds were broken here, no compromises made. Both parties are set in their stance. Meanwhile the APRC under the guise of meet the peoples
tour have started their presidential campaign.

The efforts of concerned Gambians to get the two opposition camps to reconcile though laudable isn't going to make a lot of difference at this stage in the game. It will be a three way contest come September and if the electorate knowing what they are going through decided to stick with the status quo, God bless them. At this point, the electorate is the final arbiter and may the best candidate win.

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